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Taiping County, Lotus Mountain.

Mountains in northeastern China were all to some extent linked to Changbai (TL/N: "Forever White") Mountains and Lotus Mountain was no exception, belonging to a stretching branch of Changbai. It was not as tall as Phoenix Mountain, but took up a large area. Lotus Mountain had 999 peaks, just one peak away from a whole thousand, hence it was also known as the "mountain of a thousand lotus flowers".

The most famous tourist spot on the mountain was the naturally formed stone statue of Buddha in a valley in the northern part of the mountain. It was 70-meter-high, with a vivid face and accurate proportions. The statue was in a sitting position, leaning to the right.

As the story went, on the day it was blessed, believers who came numbered tens of thousands. The day started cloudless and sunny, but then yellow snowflakes started falling down all of a sudden. Some people from the crowd then explained that those were not snowflakes, but yellow sand brought along by the south wind, for paving the ground with yellow sand was a sign of Buddha's arrival...

Yuck!



Stuff like that should not be treated seriously and the stone did not even look like Buddha. It was nothing but a far-fetched imagination and commercial publicity. Anyhow, Lotus Mountain was still the most popular scenic area in the province.

It was a hot afternoon.

Along the wide and solid mountain trail, three people were walking slowly. The one in the front was a short and tubby man in his fifties. He was puffing and huffing, but would not stop to rest.

They paid no attention to the view and walked straight up the mountain, as if they were on some sort of a mission.

They climbed halfway up the mountain, then passed a resting area and finally came to a fork on the trail. One branch was the main route, while the other had a sign with an arrow on it, which said "Wuliang [TL/N: meaning "immeasurable"] Temple".

"Damn, we’ve finally made it! I’m exhausted!"

The fat middle-aged man wiped away his sweat, his voice cracking. The two hatchet men dared not make any comments and only followed him in silence.

They took a right turn and walked up a slope. About two hundred meters in, a small temple complex was in front of them. The temple gate towered aloft the reddish-brown walls. Looking up, they could see the main hall, which was nearly ten meters tall. It was constructed with black bricks and gray tiles with carved beams and painted rafters. In short, it was a stately and magnificent building.

In front of the main hall was a pond and five trees which were all so thick that one could barely wrap their arms around one. The yard was cooled down by the clear water and all the greenery. The rear rooms were each used purely as abode where Taoist priests and practitioners lived. A natural cave was to the right of the main hall, out from which flowed a spring. The water was splashing down from a dragon mouth embedded in the opening of the cave.

At first glance, this Taoist temple was nothing like those vulgar and flashy ones out there, but reminded one of a breath of fresh air. However, a closer scrutiny would reveal that those trees were loaded with red-string pouches, all being tossed up there when people came here to make wishes. As for the pond, two thick layers of coins covered its bottom, probably enough for the down payment for a small apartment.

Apart from those, a big stone was also set up in the middle of the yard--on it was a gleaming donation list, and the first name on that list was none other than the fat middle-aged man's name, Wang Yao.

This fellow used to be in the army and had served together with Li Yan. The two had kept in touch all those years. A couple of days ago, he received a call from Li Yan, telling him about what had happened to Li Yang and He Tian, then asking him for a favor.

He was a busy man himself and had been tied down by other matters until today, so he decided to pay a visit in person.

Wang Yao was a VIP here. As soon as he entered the front yard, a young Taoist priest came out to greet him with a deep bow. "How’s layman Wang been recently?"

"Very well, thanks. I’m here to see the abbot, could you please let him know?"

"Sure. Please wait a moment."

As the young Taoist priest turned to report to the abbot, Wang Yao wiped away his sweat again. ‘Talking to these people is so tiring!’

A few minutes later, the young priest came back. "Please come this way."

He left the two hatchet men in the yard and followed the young man inside, who took a turn and led him into a quiet room deep within the temple. He tidied up his clothes, put on a much more solemn face, then knocked at the door.

"Rat-a-tat!"

"Enter!"

Wang Yao pushed door open and went inside. It was a plain and neat room with a simple and unsophisticated style. A gray-frocked old Taoist priest was sitting inside, ramrod straight. His hair and beard were both grizzled, but he had rosy cheeks and very few wrinkles on his face. Hearing Wang Yao’s steps, the old man opened his eyes.

"Tsk, tsk!"

Despite having seen them many times before, Wang Yao was wholeheartedly amazed each time. Not a hint of cloudiness could be found in those eyes. Instead, they were bright and clear in an implicit manner, and as translucent as the eyes of a little child, making him cluck his tongue in amazement.

"Priest…"

He abandoned his usual high and mighty attitude and sat compliantly on a rush cushion, then fell into silence after a sigh.

"You were here just seven days ago, so I presume you’re here for something very important today?" The old priest had a clear, rich and calm voice, which sounded reassuring.

"I indeed have an important matter. The sons of my good friends had fallen victims to a plot against them. We couldn’t figure out…"

"Then I’m of no use to you."

Before he could finish, the old priest held up his hand and interrupted him. "These things have their own place in the world and are managed by their own authorities. What you should do is to call the police. Moreover, I’m a Taoist priest, I do not care for worldly conflicts."

"Exactly! Exactly! But what happened this time was so weird that they had no one else to turn to, hence I’m here to ask for your help."

Wang Yao nodded and went on before the old man could respond. "There are two victims, both very young. Neither of them had any serious illness before and were both quite healthy. However, on the same day, one was paralyzed in both legs and the other became, well, impotent."

"Oh?"

The old priest was suddenly interested. "Did you say that they suddenly fell ill, without any signs?"

"Yes! Yes! Completely out of the blue!"

"What did the doctors say?"

"Something called stagnation and blood stasis in the meridians. Also, there was a damaged Chong Vessel, which affected the fertility…" Wang Yao replied with fractured sentences.

Hearing that, the old priest closed his eyes slightly and stroked his long beard, deep in his thoughts.

Seeing his reaction, Wang Yang prodded on. "The way I see it, those two young men were probably bewitched. Didn’t we use to have ‘Five Great Immortals’ back then? Maybe the two had provoked the ire of something like that? [1]

You are a capable man and an expert in the art of healing. My illness was cured by you a few years ago. I’m sure that with your presence, all evil spirits would be expelled right away."

The old Taoist priest ignored his comment and let out a sigh after quite some time. "All right, I’ll come with you. Let’s see what supernatural being is making trouble out there."

"Dear me, that’ll be great! When are you ready to depart?"

"We can leave tomorrow."

"No problem. I’ll make the arrangements and pick you up at the foot of the mountain tomorrow morning."

"Thank you very much."

"Ah, ah…"

"Ah… Brother Tian… you’re awesome…"

The woman’s hair tangled around her shoulders and blush had suffused her face. Her moaning was tender and soft yet sounded natural at the same time. That acting skill had definitely taken after the Stanislavski's system, which was coherent, profound and precise, as well as laying equal stress on explosiveness and infectivity.

A less experienced man would not last more than two minutes with her. What was more, with her cooperative performance, he would be given the utmost sense of achievement.

That was because the one thing guys could never tell for sure was if a woman had come for real or just pretended to. He probably was feeling all mighty thinking he had given his partner a really good time, but the truth was, she just wanted it to be over with.

He Tian could not tell if she was acting either. He was simply agitated. The longer she moaned, the more irritable he became. Come on, his member would not respond to women at all. Even he himself did not believe she was like that because of him.

That blind anger was mounting inside him. Finally, he lifted his hand and slapped the woman on her buttocks.

"Ouch!"

The pain took the woman by surprise. Before she had time to react, she was violently knocked over and another slap came down right on her cheek.

"Brother Tian…"

She covered her cheek and blood was oozing out from the corner of her mouth. She was confused and scared.

"Get out! Get the f**k out!"

He Tian scrambled out of bed, grabbed an ashtray and threw it at her. He then started to pick up everything and smash it all over the place.

Finding him going mad, the woman did not even put her clothes on, but held them in her arms and ran out of the door.

"Bang!"

"Smash!"

"Clank!"

A while later, when there was nothing left in the room to destroy, he finally stopped and sat on the bed, panting. The past few days were a nightmare to him--he was just like an experienced driver who suddenly had his driving license revoked. He was miserable and bewildered.

He was beaten down at first, but his condition improved slightly after that, which encouraged him to keep trying to get his machismo back. However, each attempt had merely become a further blow… He was already a very tough man--in the meaning that he had not yet lost his mind or gone psycho by now.

"Ooh…"

He Tian tried to cry, but failed to shed any tear--a typical life of a cannon fodder. Just then, an indistinct ringing sound came from somewhere. He fumbled around and pulled his cell phone out of his suit in the closet.

"Hello, Brother Tian, Chairman He asked you to go back home tonight."

"What for?"

"Well, I heard they had invited an old Taoist priest over to treat you."

[1] TL/N: Five Great Immortals—a superstitious belief in five type of animals, which were basically demonic fairies (ED/N: think of them as youkai, since I'm guessing that's what they were, considering that youkai were at least partly a Chinese "invention"). These animals were: fox, weasel, hedgehog, snake and rat.

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